Meth: Laws have worked in other places
After months of hearing law enforcement talk about the dangers of former meth labs, Rich Peter decided it was time to see them for himself. The director of environmental health for Olmsted County near Rochester, Minn., visited a site soon after a...
After months of hearing law enforcement talk about the dangers of former meth labs, Rich Peter decided it was time to see them for himself.
The director of environmental health for Olmsted County near Rochester, Minn., visited a site soon after a meth arrest.
Police had hauled the chemicals used to make meth outside and ventilated the building.
The house looked clean, but as Peter walked around, he started feeling light headed.
"I was getting what was coming off the walls," he said. "I merely stuck my head in the doors."
That was the moment Peter realized steps had to be taken to ensure sites contaminated by meth manufacturing were properly cleaned.
"I saw first hand what was going on," he said. "It became clear to me something had to be done."
Olmsted was the first county in Minnesota to pass an ordinance requiring the cleaning of former meth labs.
A site must be cleaned by a hazardous-waste certified company and tested before it can be reoccupied.
If the owner refuses to cooperate, the ordinance allows the county to clean the site and then assess the cost back on the property owner's taxes.
Since the county passed the ordinance a year and a half ago, 20 former meth labs have been cleaned.
Only two property owners refused to pay, Peter said.
The county's main role is administrative. Officials put the property owner in contact with hazardous-waste certified companies then follow up to make sure the job was done.
It takes between six and eight hours of staff time per meth lab, Peter said. So far, the county has not hired additional staff to handle the load.
In 1991, Washington became the first state to adopt legislation mandating the cleanup of property contaminated by meth labs.
They have since been joined by Arizona and Oregon.
The legislation has not only helped ensure safety, but it also has raised public consciousness to the health hazards associated with drug labs, said Carolyn Comeau, public health advisor with the Washington State Department of Health.
"Awareness has increased tremendously," she said. "Overall, it has been very successful."
In the first year of Washington's new cleanup legislation, authorities responded to 38 meth-lab related incidents. This year, authorities have responded to 1,266, Comeau said.
The law works like this:
Law enforcement informs local health department officials of the meth lab.
Health department staff assess the site to determine whether it is contaminated.
After a certified contractor cleans a site, health officials return to do follow-up testing.
It costs an average of $7,700 to clean and post-test a 1,200 square-foot-home, Comeau said.
Inspectors examined about 400 sites this year, she said.
In Minnesota, the Olmsted County ordinance identifies a clandestine drug lab as a public health nuisance.
"We clarified in the local ordinance that a clandestine lab is a public health nuisance," Peter said. "That provided us the statutory foundation to require the property to be cleaned of the public health hazard."
Peter has helped other counties write similar cleanup ordinances and has been in contact with Bruce Jaster, Clay County's environmental health director.
"We needed to prevent the unknowing future occupant from being exposed," Peter said.
Jaster said a meth cleanup proposal is currently being reviewed by the Clay County Attorney's office.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535